04/17/2013, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Protestant couple gets huge fine worth a hundred months of the average wage

Persecution of religious minorities gets worse. Protestant couple is punished with hefty fine for possession of religious books. Local Christians say the action is meant to weaken them.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Uzbek authorities slapped Ashraf and Nargisa Ashurov, two members of Uzbekistan's Protestant community, with a fine worth a hundred times the minimum monthly wage. The sentence, imposed without trial, came illegal religious books were found at the couple's home.

On 18 March, anti-terrorist police involved in the investigation broke into the residence and found Christian literature. The babysitter, at the flat at the time, was handed down the same fine in spite of the fact that she is not Christian, local sources said.

Ashraf and Nargisa have tried in vain to argue that they had found the books when they began renting the house, but their attempt at defending themselves was ignored.

A Protestant who knows the couple told Forum that the raiding authorities produced no warrants, that no trial was held and that the fines given were "unbelievably high".

Local sources report similar incidents in February and March, when other members of the Christian community were fined in the cities of Samarkand and Nukus.

Under the law, the Protestant couple is guilty of possession of illegal books. In Uzbekistan, even owning a Bible is considered a crime and the law on religious freedom severely restricts believers' opportunity to meet and pray.

For the international community, threats, violence and persecution by Uzbek authorities against religious minorities have become commonplace.

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